August 17, 2019 Subject:
First time I have ever heard this, on the 50th anniversary
For some reason I never got around to listening to the Dead's Woodstock set. I guess I had heard that it wasn't one of the band's 'better' concerts. Tonight seemed a good time to check it out, given the date! The Mama Tried sparkles, the Dark star is nice, High Tine sung nicely by old Jer, I think the band has nothing to be ashamed of, even the many, many shows that are not considered the 'best' are still mighty darn sweet to hear...This is a great recording, all things considered. .....time to get back to the garden.....
August 9, 2019 Subject:
After the reams of documentation about the festival, one thing that's easy to forget is that the Dead had no clear vision the event would be so historic. They thought it chaotic from lack of organization, they were also very busy at the time. Everybody knew it was a cool event, well attended, but it took awhile for the general agreement that it was a cultural flashpoint (those that listened to Wavy Gravy maybe). There was so much going on: moon landing, assassinations, the bizarre, ethereal war, civil rights struggles, the cultural effects of birth control. If anything, the movie and triple album that followed shrewdly cemented the legend.
Like CSN&Y (who had their audio on the LP replaced with a Fillmore East show), the Dead hated their performance and kept it from being heard/seen. Then, they were asked about this one gig; e n d l e s s l y. I've never thought it sounded particularly different from any mid-'69 shows (other than having a super-short Stephen and super-long Lovelight), but they liked some semblance of control over their stage & their sound, and this they did not have. Maybe that coloured their opinion to the point of agreed rejection. But there are many other shows from this era with technical difficulties. It's just a five-song set, but with long tunings, and if anyone could play amidst psychedelic chaos...
Either way, if you call yourself a Deadhead you will have listened to at least the fine Dark Star and High Time. The Dead were slotted between Mountain and Creedence. Lucky for them, they went on @10:30p - earlier than Owsley was usually ready - at the peak of wakeful attendance. Except for being allowed to stretch Lovelight, it's the set you'd expect them to play at a major festival.
St Stephen is the typical '69 version, but truncated for the uninitiated festival crowd, going straight into then-new Mama Tried. Excitement, hullabaloo and having to deal with the circumstances is probably what accelerated the tempo. Granted the Dark Star is a bit generic, but the point was to play to the masses, and this version stands up against others from the era. High Time has the infamous radio interference - which I've always thought turned out psychedelic. The crowd was baffled-to-indifferent, so out comes Pig for a 38min Lovelight. The official releases have the vox centered, but the SBD is more accurate to the event [with the radio chatter clear]. This Lovelight is also legendary because some guy walked onto the mic and in the confusion was allowed as an unknown guest. If he sounds baked, he LOOKS it too (check the vids). Band cohort/MC Ken Babbs gave him the name "3rd Coast", and says he immediately forgot his real name (and he remains anonymous today!). Not a pro, he put the mic against his lips, causing distortion (like a rapper). Pig waits patiently, even though he wasn't loaded like the rest. When the guy pauses, Pig starts singing and the guy wheels, stunned, and looks at Pig like he's seeing an alien being. Babbs eventually comes out and ushers him offstage. Note that the vid has yet another (different) vox feed, and all vids have a one minute edit @6:25, cutting a Pig-starting-over verse while on his congas mic (before he moves back to the front). All sources longer than 39min have two repeated sections - and it used to circ this way. The dropout @24:10 isn't an edit, just a two sec drop (complete on vid). It's a long-ass Lovelight but with few real fireworks. Pig isn't at his '69 best, but 25min>28min ain't bad. The footage varies from too dark to an odd close-up of Constanten's hands. But at the end there's suddenly a clear shot from the side of the stage and you can see Mickey ignite his cannon (@38:25). When Creedence starts stetting up, someone who wasn't impressed by the Dead shouts "Do you guys know more than two songs?".
Overall = 2¾ stars
SOURCES: The gastwirt_miller_sirmick is the cleanest/most complete to date. Most of the set is usually up on YouTube, though it's dark, too close-up, and with no sense of the massive crowd. The 40 Years On box finally released the Lovelight and (on the European version) Dark Star. It's DVD has Mama Tried & Lovelight. These were the first official releases (the Dead skipped the first LP, the second, and the 25th anniversary box). The 50th Anniversary Experience set has Mama Tried through High Time, but the tuning with Babbs and Country Joe is edited to 4min. The 50th Back to the Garden full box finally released the entire set, exactly as heard here, but with a slightly different source/mix, mostly on the vox balance (the sirmick doesn't clearly have Jer at the sinister plot tuning and mixes Pig differently). It also has the entire festival, mastered from multiple sources for continuity, except for one section the Hendrix estate wouldn't clear (his set was Monday morning after most people had left anyway).